East Texas workers are diligent, conscientious and well-educated, a new survey of the local labor market says, but employers say it can be tough matching workers with the right skills to the right jobs - particularly in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
“This is a very comprehensive survey, and it says a lot of things,” says Tom Mullins of the Tyler Economic Development Council. “It says that Tyler has a competitive workforce and that companies can be confident they can find good workers with a variety of skills and a solid work ethic.”
The survey, titled “The East Texas I-20 Corridor Area Wage & Fringe Benefits Survey Report,” was authored by Avalanche Consulting out of Austin. It polled 39 companies, big and small, to see what they had to say about their workers. The data will be used by the TEDC as it seeks to recruit more companies to come to the Tyler area.
“The No. 1 variable for site selection nationally is the available workforce,” Mullins explained. “Before companies will look at investing in your area, they have to be convinced you have the workforce and that they have or can get the skills they need.”
The Tyler-area “labor shed” is roughly a circle with a radius of about 35 miles. The companies surveyed, which included manufacturing, tech and service companies, rated East Texas workers positively.
“Employers in the East Texas I-20 corridor generally hold positive views of the skills available among the local workforce,” the survey said. “Approximately half of all companies surveyed characterized the reading, writing and computer skills of local workers as good. Nearly 20 percent of the respondents, however, described the writing skills of workers as poor. Surveyed companies have a less favorable impressing of the math skills possessed by the local workforce. Less than 30 percent characterized the math skills of workers as good. Nearly 70 percent described the math skills of workers as either fair or poor.”
That’s not just Tyler, Mullins points out.
“That’s generally true across the country,” he said. “The higher the skill requirements, the harder a position is to fill. That’s particularly true of STEM jobs.”
The federal government projects that by 2018, as many as 2.4 million STEM jobs will go unfilled.
“That’s why we’re putting so much emphasis on technical education in Tyler,” said Mullins, citing Tyler ISD’s Career and Technology Education center and many programs at Tyler Junior College. “The more we can educate our workforce in STEM areas, the more competitive we will be for future job creation.”
But the survey had many more positive things to say about East Texas workers.
“Surveyed companies generally do not view employee turnover, tardiness or absenteeism as significant problems,” the report said. “More than 60 percent of surveyed firms characterized employee tardiness as low. Just 5 percent rated employee tardiness as high. Nearly half of all surveyed participants described employee turnover as low. Forty-five percent of companies surveyed rated employee absenteeism as low. Just 11 percent of firms described employee absenteeism as high.”
Mullins says those are important traits.
“As we’ve said for years, companies that have workforces here and in other parts of the country tend to rank our people positively,” he said. “They like the workers they find here. They show up for work on time, they put in a good day’s work, and they work together as a team. These are characteristics that companies are looking for.”
The report also breaks down the average pay for various jobs and professions in East Texas. That’s useful data for companies. But it’s an occasional survey, and it doesn’t compare regions, so it’s difficult to make comparisons.
Still, some conclusions can be drawn, according to Mullins.
“Take a look at what a general laborer makes in East Texas,” he said. “It works out to about $22 per hour. That’s up from $21 a couple of years ago. That’s not a big increase, but if you’re a general laborer in Tyler, you’re doing okay. That’s not a bad paycheck to take home.”
The survey also shows that East Texas companies continue to offer fringe benefits to workers. A full 77 percent of companies surveyed offer health insurance benefits to employees, and 69 percent offer those benefits to their families. Nearly 70 percent offer dental insurance, and 62 percent offer accidental death insurance. About 41 percent offer life insurance as a fringe benefit.
“Health care coverage is a huge issue for families, and this survey shows that they’re looking for companies that will provide coverage,” Mullins said. “That’s a big-ticket item.”
The last such survey was conducted in 2015. It showed very similar results, Mullins said.
“The takeaway here is that we have a good-performing workforce in this part of East Texas, and companies are paying competitive wages and benefits,” he said.